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Dodging a nightmare

Friday, June 20, 2014
By Zuber Ansari

There’s a reason why bikers still try their luck on the JJ Flyover and why paying the fine is considered like a toll!

The Mumbai Police Traffic Division’s special drive against bikers on the  JJ flyover from February onwards has fetched positive results. Around 90 per cent of the bikers who earlier took the flyover are now avoiding it due to the tough measures employed by the Pydhoni and Colaba traffic police departments on either side.

There is also a special drive being initiated thrice a week to stop bikers from getting onto the flyover between 12 midnight and 5 am, and this has further reduced the number of two-wheeler related accidents. A police inspector from Pydhoni police station said, “Rash driving on the flyover has dropped considerably. We note down the names and addresses of the offenders apart from levying fines and punishments.”

The ban on two-wheelers enforced by the traffic department in April 2010 was over the number of accidents caused by its ‘curvy’ shape. However, this did not deter the daredevils from trying their luck, and over the past eight years, there have been more than 70 deaths and  hundreds have been injured. But even now, bikers try their luck, attempting to dodge the police at both ends. They include pillion drivers comprising women and children!

 The JJ flyover was built to bridge the time gap between school of architecture and hospital, a nightmare of illegally-parked cars, bikes, handcarts, jaywalkers and hawkers. It has succeeded admirably, in that the journey between the two points is absolutely easy and takes about three minutes for four wheelers.

Underneath the JJ flyover, it is another story. The nightmare is much worse than it ever was, and a journey from  Chakala Junction on its south end to JJ on its north side, could take as much as 40 minutes!

The distance of 2.4 km (the same as JJ flyover) traverses five junctions, starting with Dr Iqbal Chowk junction opposite JJ Hospital in the north, to Yusuf Meher Ali Road, Minaara Masjid, Bhendi Bazaar, ending at Chakala Junction opposite Manish Market in the south. Each junction has traffic signals.

At night after 10 pm, there is a surge of two-wheeler traffic on the 2.4 km route, reflecting the hope that there is less traffic below the bridge, obviating the need to break laws. This is usually hopeless optimism. The whole area is only slightly less choc-a-bloc during the night as it is during the day. The time taken to travel the road below by a two-wheeler during business hours is easily over 30 minutes and sometimes it takes even longer.

Many bikers claim that faulty traffic management is one of the prime reasons that they try the upper route, risking fines if they are caught. The huge number of encroachments on the pavements below throw all of the pedestrian traffic on to the road, making it mentally tough for bikers to manoeuvre through the traffic.

What makes matters worse is the system of parking which is carried out on that stretch of the road. The traffic department hasn’t taken any cognizance of the parking of vehicles underneath the flyover as well as on both sides on the road, Left to itself, the road is generous. The J J Flyover is 16.4 metres wide.

Below, it is no less than  than 20 metres, with two lanes on each side and parking in the middle. There is also parking on the sides of the road, usually double parking. This reduces the road virtually to a single lane for north and south bound traffic. The area is a business district  comprising mainly of shops, while a huge number of trucks bringing supplies also park their vehicles alongside the main route and block a vast portion of the road.

It is true that motorists, pedestrians and even bikers suffer. But perhaps the worst off are the 'guardians’ of traffic along the route. They are at the receiving end from the local residents and the businessmen for not carrying out any action on the illegal parking in the area. Many personnel deployed in that area felt that they needed police protection in order to carry on their duty without any pressure or any 'forced' intervention by the locals. And also arraigned against them are the signal jumpers, the lane cutters, the jaywalkers and their ilk.

A shop owner’s POV
The whole area is business dominated, and most of the shops and gala owners have their own cars. They park right outside the shops. This is the view of one of them, “So what’s wrong in that, we are paying charges to traffic cops whenever they are acting against us.”

Illegal encroachments are rampant. They claim they are paying 'hafta'  to the authorities, including civic and police.

Most of the cars parked on both sides of the road belong to local residents who have no fear of the entire traffic department.

A policeman speaks
Talking to ADC, a constable attached to Pydhoni Traffic Police Station, Jahangir Mulani said, “In actuality, if we can enforce the law to the fullest, then there wouldn’t be a case of traffic snarls anywhere in this area. Locals are flouting the rules and there is a large number of signal violations. At various times, we penalise them but they end up repeating the offence. Most of the time, groups from the community come forward to rescue them, hurling abuses at us along with threats of dire consequences.”

Another constable from Colaba  said, “Our jurisdiction is around 10 per cent of the entire JJ flyover including areas on and below the bridge. People have no fear of the police.

“And those traveling with their families are the worst, while often it is the women who are defiant.”

Record of penalties
From March 1 to April 20, this year, the Pydhonie traffic police have charged 4,070 bikers for taking the JJ flyover, while from May till now they have penalised more than 1,000 bikers for entering the JJ flyover. In contrast, they seem to have been unable to do much about traffic violations below the structure!

Around 1,400 bikers were penalised in March alone by the Colaba Traffic Division and around 164 paid fines till April 20 for violating traffic norms. From May, around 500 bikers were penalised. The checks against bikers was stepped up after February 26, when two young men were killed after ramming into a car on the flyover.

A traffic warden says
Dr. Sunil G Kamat (67) is a retired pathologist. More bravely, he is a traffic warden, having volunteered for the position. He says, “The problem below the bridge will be solved in 15 days if traffic cops act against these nuisance makers. They will stop automatically if traffic police acts and deploys additional police force to carry out their task without duress. Everyone violates rules below the bridge -- youths, women and senior citizens.”

They call us “Pandu”!
Many of the constables attached to both the Pydhoni and Colaba traffic division revealed that, whenever the police stop bikers and drivers for traffic violations, they are subjected to abuse. Sometimes they are called by the pejorative “Pandu”.  Even women traffic constables deployed on the bridge are not spared this behaviour.

IPC 353 difficult to impose
IPC 353 stands for assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty, but often, when bikers abuse or threaten the traffic cops, attempts to apply this section come to nought. Political interference and intervention by community leaders are brought to bear upon the police to prevent them from booking offenders under this section.

Ramzan is coming up!
On June 30,  the holy month of Ramzan will begin. During this time, from JJ signal to Chakala junction the number of encroachments on the already congested pavements will double with mostly kurta-pyjama sellers. The 20-metre road, now reduced to 10 metres, with become even narrower. Shop owners will extend their shops, the road leading to Bohri Mohalla, Minara Masjid and Phydhoni will experience hectic pedestrian and shopping activity and even restaurants in these areas will add five to six dining tables for the extra buck.

Get ready for more bikers on the JJ flyover!

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